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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. on this king day 2013 and the day of president obama's second inaugural, a conversation with the man hand-picked by coretta scott king to publish her husband's papers, clayborne carson. he is out with a new book in conjunction with the king holiday called "martin's dream." internees his own journey with dr. king and the legacy -- one of the grid -- the legacy of one of the greatest men this nation has ever produced. a conversation with clayborne carson coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the
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right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: on this day, when we honor the memory and legacy of dr. martin luther king jr., i am pleased to be joined by dr. clayborne carson, the director of the mlk research and
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education institute at stanford. he joins us tonight from colorado. always good to have you back on this program. >> great to be with you. tavis: at the king day to you. what do you make of the fact that, on this day, we do not just celebrate the legacy and life of dr. king, but the first african-american president inaugurated for the second time? >> there is so much to celebrate on this day and so much to remember about the part of king's dream that has not been fulfilled. particularly the issue of poverty. there are so many things that make us thankful that the civil- rights reforms were achieved. i think it is important, particularly on this day, to remember that, if king were around, he would be pushing us to deal with that have -- that pestering issue of poverty. tavis: why is it that you think that, with all the evidence supporting the notion that pozner -- the poverty is threatening our democracy, it is
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a matter of national security, one out of two americans are either in or near poverty, the younger you are, the more likely you are to be in poverty, these are things that king gave his life for in the end. why is there so little traction on this issue? >> i think that the civil rights reforms were actually the easier part of his dream. it did not cost anything. there was no appropriation associated with the passage of the civil rights act of 1964 or the voting rights act of 1965. there was not a major investment required. to deal with the issue of poverty, you have to be thinking about a major investment in our declining public education system. you have to be thinking about the health issues of poor people and that is going to cost money. quite frankly, that was the part
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of the dream that king found most difficult to deal with. with all of his popularity after the march on washington and the nobel peace prize, his popularity declined once he turned to these issues that are still with us today. that is where he was at the end of his life. tavis: you recall when obama first ran in 2008 for the white house. every black person i know, basically, was wearing a t-shirt or a hat or a button or something that had a picture of obama and came on it. so many people saw barack obama then and today, many people still see him as the fulfillment of dr. king's dream. i never liked that phrase. i think he is a good down payment, but he is not the fulfillment of it. i raise that only ask, particularly inside of black
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america, what you think of the journey the president has had to walk so far, being paralleled in the black community to dr. king. there is a bust he has of dr. king sitting in the oval office. even he is aware of that relationship. talk about how he has walked the line of the king legacy. >> i think that we have to give him credit for trying to do the things that he can do in a race- neutral way. the passage of the health reform bill is enormously important for poor people in this country. some of the job stimulus programs, some of the money that was put into reforming the education system, these are things that are going to help all americans. i do not think that they should be underestimated in terms of importance simply because there were not targeted specifically
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for black americans. i think that there is much that can be done in that kind of race-neutral way. if that is the way he prefers to do it, it is up to others in the black community to say certain issues have to be dealt with that are explicitly racial. and really focus on those issues during your second term. tavis: you have spent more time with dr. king's words, thoughts, ideas than anyone in the country given then you are in charge of the king papers project at stanford, the person selected by coretta scott king and honored to undertake this seminal effort. because you spent so much time with his work, these questions are often impossible to answer, but what do you have to say about the way that dr. king, given his style, the way he would have engaged obama on these difficult questions?
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we know that king would have been pushing him, pressing him on these wars. we know that dr. king would be pressing him on the issue of poverty. given what you and i know, and i am one of the examples, i am not trying to hide behind that. i am exhibit a of what can happen when you try to hold the president accountable and you happen to be an african- american. other african-americans take issue with that. i'm not whining or crying about that. the simple point is, if you happen to look like the president and you press a particular agenda, other folks who look like you and the president are going to push back on you. how would he have done this? ? how would he be navigating his relationship with the president? we have to assume they would know each other. how would he navigate critiquing the president in public spaces? >> i think very carefully, just as in navigated the relationship with lyndon johnson.
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he went out of his way to avoid taking a public position opposed to johnson on the war or poverty issues. it was only after a great deal of deliberation, a great deal of time had passed, and when he felt like he could do nothing else other than take a public stance. that is what is going on in the black community today. i think all of us recognize that the energy has to come from the grassroots. that those of us who feel that the president needs to go further, and i think it barack obama were sitting here, he would say, yes, i like to go farther in terms of dealing with these issues of poverty and specific issues of the black community, but he would also say, you have to push me. that does not necessarily come from him deciding which are the
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greatest party as he has to deal with. just as johnson also said, look, i have a lot of priorities as president. if you love me to deal with is a voting rights issue, as king did in 1964 and 1965, you have to push me. king went out and helped stage the montgomery march along with lots of other people. that pushed johnson to act on the issue of voting rights. i think that we have to take on our responsibility as citizens to say, it is not enough to go to the polls every year and go. yes, when we go to the polls as african-americans, we are going to vote for barack obama as the better of the two candidates. but our responsibility than be caught -- then begins on the day after inauguration to push the
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president the way we want him to be pushed. a lot of people are going to push him in other directions with the tea party and -- so i think that efforts like the occupy movement are very important in terms of -- barack obama would understand, as a former career organizer, you do not get noticed, especially if you're poor and disadvantaged, unless you do something to bring attention to the issues that are important. tavis: i agree with everything you said except for one. when dr. king did pushed the wrong button for lyndon johnson, you heard the tapes. you are doing the work on the papers project. johnson had some nasty things to say about martin king on those tapes. once johnson pushed those bonds, other black leaders came out publicly against martin. even if martin tried mightily
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not to take a public stance, at some point he would have felt compelled to do so. once he had done so, were he still around today, then what is the response going to be? >> i think you have to expect that those in power do not like people who speak truth to power. they would rather have flexibility that comes not out -- from not having strong grass- roots movements pushing them to do whatever things it wanted to. i think that, on some level, they understand that, particularly when we're talking about the democratic party and its relationship to its base, that unless that base is animated -- first of all, they're not going to vote in large numbers. secondly, the possibilities for any kind of progressive agenda are not going to be that great. something as important as health
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care reform, poverty issues, the education concerns that we have, all of those need pressure at the grass-roots level or else the lobbyists win, the status quo wins. and presidents have that ability to say, i am going to for bridget to focus on foreign policy rather than domestic policy. all of that has to come with regards to the dialogue that goes on between any president and the people who put him in office. tavis: this inauguration is special because the president has been inaugurated for a second time on this historic king holiday. this is also the first time any president has been inaugurated while, the steps near where he is inaugurated, is a monument to
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dr. martin luther king jr. you were with the president when the monument was unveiled. offer some reflections on what that experience was like. >> obviously, that was a tremendous experience last year. that monument, i spent some much of my life, the last 10 years, helping to design it. i tell the whole story about how we wanted to be a monument not just to king, but to the tremendous freedom struggle. to be there and watch president obama, i was interested in what he would have to say. no one would question that obama, from a very early age, through his mother, understood king's importance and the importance of the movement. i am always very curious to see how he interprets king's legacy, how he draws inspiration from
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it. obviously, there are limits, as he showed when he gave his nobel peace prize speech. he specifically said that i cannot, as president, follow king and gandhi because i have to deal with the issue of terrorism. to me, that did not make very much sense. if i had a dialogue with the president, i would say, certainly martin luther king and gandhi understood terrorism. that was not a word or an idea that was invented in the last 10 or 20 years. that has been a lot -- that has been around for a long time and king had to deal with that. he had to deal with the people in the world. he was not using nonviolence because he felt that that was a tactic that could only be used against honorable people. it was a tactic that he used
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against some of the most powerful people in the nation at the time. so that question, i went there to try to see what obama would say. i think he said some interesting things about how we need to understand that king was not the movement. in some ways, he is saying, i am not the progressive movement in this country. there has to be something at the level of neighborhoods, institutions, what we used to call the black community. a lot of things have happened in the black community, but is still has some vibrant institutions that need to be revitalized in order to deal with the problems of the 21st century. i think what obama was saying there was a reminder that, even
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as president, his power is limited. even as martin luther king, his power to control the movement was limited. there were other people out there that he had to deal with. malcolm x, stoically carmichael, all of these people that i knew so well. they did not see themselves as followers of martin luther king. they thought of king as following them because they were in the vanguard of the movement. we need a generation of people and who have that feeling, that they might admire barack obama, but barack obama needs to follow them, not the other way around. tavis: i hear your point loud and clear. king and obama are running into different lanes. king is a profit and obama is a politician. i get that. yet the president, while he is constrained, clearly, he has certain institutional
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constraints that we need to be sympathetic to, but he also has to make choices as well. that is not just true of barack obama, it is true of all of us. how do you think we're doing making the world safe, if i could put it that way, for the legacy of dr. king? i ask that against the backdrop of the words of abraham joshua hester. he basically said that the future of this country is clearly and irrevocab, inextricably linked to how seriously we take the legacy of dr. king. the future of this country is about how serious we take his legacy. i asked you now, how seriously or how well do you think we're doing with making this country and the world safe for his legacy? >> i think that starts at a
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really basic level. one of the things that the rabbi and martin luther king agreed on was the importance of the notion of justice as a basic element in the judeo-christian tradition going back to amos and isaiah, the idea that the main commandment, the central commandment of god is to do justice to those less fortunate. sometimes we, and particularly those who go to church every sunday, go to church and learn about how to make our own personal lives better. sometimes forget that basic imperative of our religious tradition. i think that unless we can recapture that -- there is another part of the prophetic
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tradition. that is nations or people who forget that imperative are doomed. are ultimately doomed because those who did not take care of the problems of those less fortunate will soon find that this is kind of like a cancer that will eat away at the ethical and moral foundation of the nation. that is one of the messages that rabbi shall -- heschel and martin luther king, you do not see reflected in the most of the server -- the sermons you here on sunday morning in christian churches today. you hear a different kind of message, which may be also important, but not the basic message that is an essential part of that tradition. tavis: in this book, you make the point that, on days like today, where we celebrate the life and relationships of dr.
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king, were the around today, he might not be welcome about -- at some of these celebrations. tell me about that. >> i had the experience myself of being invited to king holiday celebrations and hearing that other people were not invited because they were considered too controversial. often, those who are considered too controversial were those saying precisely the things that i think martin luther king would be saying. i wondered whether martin luther king would be invited to his own celebration at many of these events. he might have the bad manners to bring out the wars that we are involved in. he might have the bad manners to point out that many of the people who came into the celebration walk past poor people who are in need outside.
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never saw the connection between what was going on inside the celebration and what is going on just outside the doors. tavis: this book is both topical and timely. timely given that, 2013 represents the 50th anniversary of the march on washington. we have a few months to go to get august to celebrate this. as we work our way towards august, what assignment would you give to the nation with regard to reading, research, reflection? what assignment do you want to give us to get ready to be in the right spirit, the right frame of mind to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this march? >> i could say, just read my book, "martins dream." that is why i was asked to write the book. i was asked to write something about what has happened to the king legacy in the 50 years since then.
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the editor of my papers told -- what is it that the writer of these papers told me about his legacy? i tried to deal with different aspects. first of all, my own experience as an admirer of the student nonviolent coordinating committee and their grassroots approach. there was a lot of tension between that and martin luther king's more top-down approach. going through my relationship with the king family and trying to speak candidly about that, in terms of our role together with the family in terms of disseminating his legacy. and then, what did i learn from all this? going through thousands and thousands of papers, i learned -- i gained a deeper understanding of who king is. what was his relationship to
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coretta scott king, to his father, to his family, to his colleagues in the movement, to people like malcolm x, a very important relationship that has not been properly understood? also, taking his legacy to other countries. that has helped me to understand that king is not just an african-american leader, but he is a world figure. when i wrote a play about martin luther king and took it to china, more recently to the palestinian territories, i began to understand how king can be translated or sometimes miss translated into other languages and other cultures and help people understand him differently in ways that i think are useful for americans to understand, because i think we tend to pigeonhole him as a black civil rights leader. we do not pigeonhole gandhi as
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an indian independence fighter. we tend to see him more broadly as a global figure. that is a waking is seen outside the united states, someone who continues to inspire people on issues of human rights and democracy. so that was my goal in terms of writing this book, trying to say, here is my experience. maybe that will help you understand more about martin luther king, who he really was, not just this figure that we celebrate every year, but a real, living human being with all his flaws and limitations. that is what i wanted to present readers. tavis: he is the person selected by the late great coretta scott king to be the editor of the papers of her husband. his new book is called "martin's dream." clayborne carson, an honor to
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have you on this program. i am grateful and indebted for your work, to bring his words to us through the papers project. i hope to see you sometime soon. >> good to talk to you, as always. tavis: that is our show tonight. see you back here next time on pbs. until then, happy king day. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with -- from washington for the first of three nights with a panel of poverty. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do.
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walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs. >> be more. pbs.
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Tavis Smiley
PBS January 22, 2013 12:00am-12:30am PST

News/Business. (2013) Clayborne Carson, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. New. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Martin Luther King 9, Us 7, Dr. King 7, Obama 6, Johnson 5, Scott King 4, Pbs 3, Washington 3, Gandhi 3, Barack Obama 3, Clayborne Carson 3, Stanford 2, Tavis Smiley 2, U.s. 2, Lyndon Johnson 2, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 2, Black America 1, Los Angeles 1, Smiley 1, Vanguard 1
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